My Improv Slump


Less than a year into it, I nearly quit improv. I had hit a slump.

From the first night of my 101 class when the simple act of introducing myself to the group had my heart racing and my palms (ok, my whole body) sweating, I had been making progress. I had joined a Minor League troupe and was playing in monthly matches. The first six to nine months were an exhilarating time of growth.

Then I lost sight of why I had started and I began comparing myself to naturally talented players. I wondered if I deserved to share the playing field with my smart, witty, and charismatic teammates. I simply didn’t have their raw talent. Enter the slump.

After nearly every practice or match, I beat myself up. Figuratively. I realized that despite my progress, I wasn’t as talented as my teammates. I surrendered to the idea that some people simply have it. You know the type. They open their mouths to speak and people can’t help but be drawn in. Can you imagine stopping Bill Murray on a busy Chicago street and asking for directions? I can and it’s hilarious.

I’m no Bill Murray, so I asked myself whether this improv hobby had run its course. I had come out of my shell and I had learned a thing or two, which is no small feat. That chapter of my life story was closing but I would always be able to say that I had taken improv classes. I would maintain the relationships but I would no longer hold my teammates back with my lack of talent. Without me there to ruin scenes, the others could shine the way they were meant to.

I believed these things. Leaving improv sounded practical.

After a match that nearly sealed my decision, I left the green room in mental preparation for my exit strategy. A fellow Minor League player from another troupe stopped me with a simple, sincere compliment. Just like that, I retracted my decision to quit. This pattern repeated itself a couple more times that winter. Whenever I descended into self-doubt, my peers provided unsolicited encouragement. They pointed out my strengths and accomplishments.

That’s what we do. We nurture the potential in one another. I had not joined the team for fame or fortune. (Anyone who joins for those reasons is misinformed and doomed to disappointment.) I had joined because it was fun and I loved the people. It was that simple. By refocusing on what mattered, I made it through the winter.

When I tried out for the Major League troupe last month, I had no expectations. I observed and I immersed myself in the experience. I watched people who had been practicing improv for years. I also saw inexperienced people with natural talent. I wasn’t too concerned about my own performance but a teammate later told me that my tryout was proof of how much I had grown over the past year.

What if I’d started improv classes with confidence and an indisputable natural ability to entertain? Maybe I’d be a Major League player today. But it wouldn’t mean as much as it will if I get to that level after another year or five of practice. When my teammates tell me how far I’ve come, my inner cynic wants to point out that there was no place for me to go but up. I know my inner cynic has no idea what it’s talking about, though. Coming this far was not a given. I chose, over and over again, to keep going. Go to another practice, get in another scene, try something new, play in another match.

During my slump, quitting seemed rational. Improv is not rational. We players make things up as we go and we create realities from nothing. We accept all manner of improbable suggestions and move stories forward. I rejected rationale and committed to my passion.

Quitting is not always bad. Putting an end to negative or demoralizing activities, jobs, or relationships that are going nowhere can be practical and healthy. But don’t quit something you love simply because you weren’t born knowing how to do it.

Lisa Swope has been a Minor League Player at ComedySportz® Richmond since 2016.

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